What is it about the teachings of Jesus that have so impacted our world? Perhaps it is the promises of a coming kingdom where justice and love will be genuine and that gives us hope and a vision for the future? Jesus spoke parables that tell stories that reassure us in this struggling world of ours that we are important and that his kingdom is worth entering. He reassures us that when we are lost like a sheep, invisible like a lost coin, or repentant like the wayward child that there is a God who runs to embrace us.
This week, as pictures and stories have poured out of our radios and TVs about Afghanistan and the chaos there, I have felt helpless. As I listened to the arguing about Covid and wearing masks, I have felt exhausted. As I have seen the burned out communities and people who have lost everything, I have grieved. We come to the end of the week focusing on the teachings of Jesus and the song that comes to my heart is how Jesus’s teachings and life raise me up to more than I can be. Please enjoy.
Luke 15 ends this week of focusing on the teachings of Jesus. We pondered the Sermon on the Mount and how different the essence of the Kingdom of Heaven is from the kingdom of this world. We looked at some parables that caused us to think about the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. Then we read the Good Samaritan that challenged us to think about just who is in this Kingdom Jesus is talking about. In today’s readings Jesus shares stories to impress us with the basic truth that the Kingdom is not a reward for our good deeds, our fantastic talents, or our wealth and power. God is like a shepherd who goes out looking for his lost sheep to bring them safely home. He is like a woman looking for a lost coin for all are valuable. And he is like the father of the prodigal son who waits for the wayward younger son who has arrogantly demanded his inheritance to squander it in wild living, to return home. He rejoices and throws a party. “I tell you there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” The father of the wayward son reminds his jealous older brother that those who faithfully serve God always have access to God’s resources
I suspect we have all had those times when we have felt lost like that sheep, unseen like that coin, and so unworthy like the prodigal son. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Thank goodness that in those lost and dark hours we can turn to a God who cares not about our wonderfulness but that we are his and he wants relationship with us.
So what can we take away from this today? Maybe you are in a good space and rejoicing. We need only turn on the news and we can think of those trying to get to the Kabul airport, those needing a bed in our overcrowded hospitals, or those weeping over lost homes in the fires. If you are a good space then spend a couple minutes praying for one of these groups. If you feel the plight of the sheep, the coin, or the son then remember the father who is running to you with open arms ready to throw a party at your return. Blessings as you process these parables.
Luke 10: 25-37 tells one of Jesus’ most famous stories given in response to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man asking is an expert in the law and so Jesus asks what the law says. The Golden Rule is quoted, love God and treat others as you would like to be treated. Good answer but the man presses on, “Who is my neighbor?” How do we define “other.” For sure we include family, friends and perhaps people we know but surely it does not include enemies and foreigners.
Chatting with the women in the village while on the field, I asked what I should do if I came upon an elephant. No problem, they said because I need only expose my breast and say I nursed my babies up front like the elephant. I had the feeling I was classified with the animals. Anyone not of their tribe was not considered human. Jesus gives the story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritans were descendants of the tribes that did not support the son of King David and were considered of mixed bloodlines. A man beaten up by thieves was left to die and the “good” people pass the catastrophe by but a Samaritan stops and helps the man. Jesus asks, “Who was the neighbor?” It was “the one who showed mercy,” answers the man of law. It was the foreigner. It was the man who understood ridicule and rejection, empathized with the wounded man and crossed internal boundaries to help.
Jesus’ stories and parables were not designed to entertain or bring laughter but to bring truth to our lives. So often we draw the line between good and bad a bit beyond where we are so we are on the good side. Faith is not about knowing the right answers and being well educated but more about receiving and giving God’s love and forgiveness to others. The receiving is belief and faith even when situations are ugly – the wounded was a creation of God – and the giving was reaching out to the other. I listen to the story and see my areas of needed growth. Is there some area where you need to pray about growing today? Perhaps someone you have trouble forgiving? Perhaps someone to take a gift to? Acts of kindness are generally appreciated. Blessings as you ponder this story.
Matthew 13. The Sermon on the Mount was Jesus’ State of the Union Address, laying out the precepts of the Kingdom of Heaven. It was a sermon. But often we find Jesus talking to the people in picture language, in parables. In Matthew 13 we hear several parables, pictures, of what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like.
It will be like a farmer sowing seed in a field. The farmer sows generously but some falls on the road, some in rocky soil, some on thorny soil and some on good soil. Just hearing does not mean we are listening or can receive. Likewise the farmer sows good seed but weeds sown by the enemy crop up. They will grow together until the final judgment. Only God knows who is good and who is bad. It is not our job to judge. The Kingdom is like yeast or a mustard seed. It starts small but it grows and impacts many and provides food and haven for many. The Kingdom is like a valuable pearl that we must sell our lesser treasures to buy. God will not force us into his heaven and we must want to be part of it. Lastly he compares the Kingdom to a net thrown out to catch fish. The good fish will be collected and the bad ones discarded.
These parables paint pictures of choice, of growth, of struggle and of a present God who is working in our world. Jesus does not deny the existence of our epic villain, Satan, and his potential power. But neither does he belittle the blessing of being part of the epic hero’s kingdom, God’s Kingdom. Not everyone who has ears, hears and not everyone who hears, listens.
Take a moment and ponder these parables. Which one speaks to your heart? Is faith like a growing seed, a bush offering refuge, a pearl of great price, or a net to pull in others? Pick the parable you like and perhaps write five adjectives that describe that parable in your experience. If you are a doodler like me, perhaps draw a little cartoon and thank the Lord for that picture of your place in his Kingdom. Blessings.
Matthew 6:5-7:29. Today our reading is the second half of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ state of the Union address. Jesus continues giving a basic summary of his beliefs, the foundation of the kingdom of heaven. As Jesus finishes, I can hear Forest Gump say, “And that’s all I have to say about that!”
In these verses Jesus shares, “This, then, is how you should pray….” We receive the Lord’s prayer that is one of the first prayers many children learn and which is said in most churches. Like the Ten Commandments, the first petitions of the prayer are for God to be honored and the last ones deal with our daily way of living in society. Help us be forgiving, looking only for daily bread, and safe from evil. The challenge is to stay balanced in these areas and to keep our focus on God and not on self.
I love the way Jesus points us to nature and. beauty and the care God gives his valued creation and does not point us to the conflicts of politics or human relations. He encourages dependence on God. Possibly the best summary comes right at the end, “So in everything do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” We call it the Golden Rule.
Jesus encourages us to “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” on closed doors. It is good to take a moment and reflect on what I am asking for today, what am I looking for, and what doors that I perceive are closed would I like to see open. As I watch the news about Afghanistan, hear the reports on the affects of the virus and the arguments that is spawning, not to mention the environmental challenges, I’ll admit I find myself praying, “Lord, have mercy!” Our poor world does not look like the kingdom he is talking about but the sunrise today will remind me that this epic story is not finished yet! And if it rains, I might glimpse a rainbow! Blessings as you pray, ask, seek, and knock. He is listening and will act.
This week we are going to focus on the teachings of Jesus, a huge task for one week. The Sermon on the Mount, opens as a kind of State of the Union address. Jesus then often teaches with parables, or short stories with layers of meaning, that challenge the listener as we ponder the meanings and are often challenge our behavior. Most importantly, though, Jesus led a life that was consistent with his teachings and drew others into conversation. Famously, his disciples asked him, “Teach us to pray.” We have the Lord’s Prayer used by all Christian denominations. Sermons, parables, a consistent life all challenged listeners to value reconciliation, faithfulness, forgiveness, and love. We see our epic hero, God, reflected in his incarnation, Jesus, and challenging our epic villain, Satan, as we choose whom we will follow.
Matthew 5:1-6:4 gives the fullest text of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus opens by defining the blessed or happy life. Surprisingly, happiness does not come from the glitter of this world but can be found in all places and conditions – mourning, poverty, humility and even persecution. We are challenged to be like salt and light, sharing, not keeping our faith private. Jesus then challenges us to look beyond the law to the condition of our hearts that lead to breaking the law. Hate is as bad as murder for hate is murder in the heart.
One of the little “stories” near the end of the sermon is about two men who built houses, one on rock and one on sand. When the rains came the house on the rock stood firm but the house on the sand washes away. He challenges us on how we are building our lives – like the Romans that spawned cruelty and oppression or by God’s guidelines. It is still true today as we choose how we will build the houses of our life.
As the song goes, “The wise man built his house upon the rock.” Today let us take a moment to ponder how we are building our house, our lives. Are we looking for happiness in the world’s values or in relationship to God? Blessings as you build.
This week we have focused on how various witnesses understood the person of Jesus. The Apostle John called him “The Word” that existed at creation and incarnated to receive all who chose to be his children. Luke starts with the prophecy fulfilled, starting with the birth of John the Baptists, going to the details historically and geographically of the Christmas story with the angels and shepherds announcing the incarnation, God become flesh. Ordinary people become famous witnesses of history proclaiming Jesus as Lord. Matthew shares how Jesus was challenged by our epic villain, Satan, “If you are God…” prove it.
We will close this week with the hymn, “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations.” It was written in 1896 by H. Ernest Nichol, an English musician. People who were exposed to Jesus and understood him to be God, could not be quiet but had to share this wonderful relationship. This song captures the flavor of the missionary fervor. Please enjoy an old favorite.
1. We’ve a story to tell to the nations that shall turn their hearts to the right –
A story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light.
2. We’ve a story to be sung to the nations that shall lift their hearts to the Lord –
A story that shall conquer evil and shatter the spear and sword.
3. We’ve a message to be sung to the nations that the Lord who reigneth above –
Hath sent us his Son to save us and to show us that God is love.
4. We’ve a Savior to show to the nations who the path of sorrow has trod –
That all of the world’s great peoples might come to the truth of God.
Chorus: For the darkness shall turn to the dawning and the dawning to noonday bright, and Christ’s great kingdom shall come to earth, the kingdom of love and light.
Matthew 3:12 – 4:11. Matthew also reports about Jesus’ baptism. You may have noted that John was preaching a “baptism of repentance” but Jesus, if God, had nothing to repent of. But if, God became incarnate to take away the sins of the world, then he needed to identify with humanity in all aspects. Jesus hears the voice from heaven say, “This is my beloved Son, whom I love.” Wow, what a spiritual high
How often when we are feeling our best does some little thing send us to the depths? Jesus has just had a spiritual experience and goes off by himself, to the wilderness, and sure enough 40 days later Satan appears to challenge his joy. “If you are the son of God…” Satan presents three scenarios: turn the rock to bread, jump from the temple steeple, and bow and worship me and short cut his journey. Sigh. How powerful that word “if” is and how doubt undermines our sense of identity.
Interestingly Jesus responds from the written Word. He quotes scripture. Satan, that sly epic villain, misquotes scripture in response, taking it out of context. Surely God would not want us to be hungry or hurt or unwise. Surely God does not want us lonely or single or poor or sick or…whatever trial we are going through right now. Doubting God’s Word, God’s will and God’s way is Satan’s age-old temptation. Knowing the word in context and being in a solid group of believers who form a feedback and supportive community is important.
Even Jesus in his incarnation knew scripture and stayed in community. Ponder your spiritual disciplines and reflect on how they support you to know the Word. And ponder your community of supporters. Are they willing to speak the truth in love when you need it? Those are friends to hold on to and life-long needed disciplines! Blessings.
Luke 3: 1-20. Luke in chapter three jumps to the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, locating his story in researchable time and place. Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, has grown up as an Essene community and receives “the word of the Lord” to not only speak truth to power but also to the ordinary people. He is to “prepare the way for the Lord,” for the coming of the Messiah. This unfolding story and realization meant that John was out in the wilderness preaching “truth,” people needed to repent and return to God. Likewise he preached “hope” as he said our hope cannot be in our heritage, that we are the right tribe or related to Abraham, but a person was coming far greater than he. He spoke truth to power, confronting Herod with his murder of his brother to marry the brother’s wife, Herodias. John the Baptist was a fiery character drawing people from all levels of society.
“I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Another ordinary person testifies that Jesus is God. John was able to see past family ties to see the bigger picture. Sometimes we are blinded by those closest to us because we know them too well. But John saw past that. John, as popular as he was, was willing to point everyone to Jesus as fulfilled prophecy.
Like John the Baptist, we all impact others, those older and those younger. We all need someone to mentor us and we impact those who look up to us. We are never too old or too young. My sons were home from boarding school asked me to cut their hair. The younger in about sixth grade wanted to look like his “big brother,” Joe, at school and he spent an hour looking through year books to find pictures of his hero on the soccer field. The older son wanted to look like his dorm father whom he actually did not like! We all impact lives.
John the Baptist prepared the road for the coming of the Lord, his cousin Jesus. He did not fully understand the plan but he was willing to speak truth. We must repent and open our hearts to receive God’s truth and not the world’s. I suspect this is still true today. Perhaps there is someone who looks up to you. How might you be an honest witness to them of the truth in your life today? Blessings as you try.
Luke 2:1-40. Luke wrote the script that is most known for the Christmas children’s presentation of the incarnation, the birth or arrival of Jesus. We know most of the characters. Mary must wear blue. A cloth wraps the baby Jesus. Joseph has flowing robes. Don’t forget the donkey and cows! And then there is an old man, Simeon, who appears eight days later and Anna, an eighty year old prophetess widow who both testify at the temple to the prophecy of the coming of Jesus. Bethlehem was not a metropolis. Oh yes, no hospital or birth certificate. Ordinary and inconspicuous might be adjectives to describe this not untypical home birth scene — except for prophecy fulfilled and angels praising. In fact, the quoted angelic message in Luke is a bit oblique. The angels are praising God for bringing peace to earth. It is the nameless shepherds who help fill in the cracks by saying, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about.”
Handel’s Messiah puts in song the prophecy that angels reference and which was given centuries before by Isaiah, Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born, to us a child is given, and the government will be on his shoulders, and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Prophecy and praise meet in ordinary shepherds, in an old man, an old woman and countless generations since that remember the Christmas story. Jesus was not just another wise sage born that evening but “Mighty God,” incarnate, but as John reminded us yesterday, it is our choice to receive him.
What might receiving look like to you? Do you think of Christmas morning or FedEx delivering a package, an email popping up on your computer screen, a graduation ceremony and walking across the stage or perhaps when a small baby was placed in your arms. Receiving is personal, is special, and often is somehow unique to your needs. What might you need to receive from God today? Feel free to place your order through prayer. Perhaps it will take time like the prophecy to be fulfilled but God keeps his promises – not for health, wealth, and prosperity but for presence, for care, and for an answer that is best for you. Blessings,